Anne Frank’s house

I read Anne Frank’s diary when I was about 13 years old. I was old enough to understand the seriousness of the story, but it was only when, around 20 years later, I stood in the rooms where Anne and her family, plus four other people, had gone into hiding during the Second World War, that I began to get a glimpse of how cramped and terrifying life must have been for them.

If you want to go to Anne Frank’s house during a visit to Amsterdam, you really have to book in advance because the tickets sell out very quickly.

My partner and I went there in May. There are audio devices that you can borrow, which are activated when you are in the correct area. This meant that my boyfriend had to take me to the activation points, but I didn’t need to do anything to the device to make it work. The explanations and diary extracts were available in a number of languages. There is also information to read and there are some artifacts to look at in the various rooms.

It’s a self-guided tour and you are let in in groups so that the building doesn’t become too full. My partner guided me around. It’s fine for a relatively fit blind person, but anyone with restricted mobility may find the steep steps difficult. Throughout the tour, there is information about the life of the Frank family before, during and after their time in hiding, and part of the story is told through extracts from Anne’s diary, which range from descriptions of everyday happenings, to her deepest thoughts, hopes and fears.

Anne Frank was born in Germany, where she lived with her parents and older sister Margot until 1933, when the family moved to the Netherlands, following concerns about Hitler’s rise to power. They felt safe there for a short time, but the sense of freedom was short-lived because Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and life became increasingly difficult for Jewish people there too.

One of the things that struck me was that the family didn’t suddenly find themselves in a situation where they needed a place to hide. Things were getting progressively worse. Anne listed a number of things in one of her earlier diary entries such as Jewish people weren’t allowed to ride the tram, use swimming pools, be outside after a certain time, visit the houses of non-Jewish people etc. So it was a creeping misery. Maybe, in the beginning, some people thought it would never end in a situation where people were fleeing for their lives or looking for somewhere to hide. But it did. If you don’t stand up to bullies, unfairness, or smaller injustices, they gain power and momentum until people really are powerless to stop them. I think there’s a lesson in there for us, too.

When Anne’s older sister Margot was called up to be sent to a German labour camp, Otto Frank, Anne’s dad, and the only survivor of the eight people who went into hiding together, decided to take his family into hiding with the help of his employees.

I am someone who needs time alone. Not time away from my partner, but time away from lots of people in general. If I don’t get it, I can become grumpy. And yet day after day, these 8 people were in that small series of rooms, with nowhere to go. No opportunities to go outside for a walk. Nowhere to get away.

Not only that, but they had to entrust their survival to complete strangers. I don’t just mean the people who were keeping them alive by bringing provisions, but they had to trust each other. No flushing the toilet during the daytime. No loud noises. NO accidentally letting a door slam shut. No dropping things on the floor. What about in the summertime if people got hay fever? No sneezing! Doing any of these things could have resulted in them all being found and captured. Trusting family members and complete strangers with your life like that must have been really hard on the nerves.

The family of four, plus four other people, hid in this small series of rooms behind a slidable bookcase for two years, until they were discovered on 4th August 1944. It is not known how they were discovered or if someone betrayed them. They were first deported to a transit camp and then sent on to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Anne later died of typhus in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen.

Anne wanted her diary to be published after the war, and in 1947, her father made sure that this wish came true. Now it has been translated into more than 60 languages and has been read by children and adults all over the world.

As we came out, we were immediately back in the world of parties and happy people having fun. The loud hustle and bustle of a city full of people enjoying themselves. Such a stark contrast to the place that we had just left behind. It made me want to go out and enjoy life because life is so precious, whilst at the same time not forgetting what we had just witnessed. How persecution of people based on race or religious belief can lead to such misery and cruel loss of life.

I haven’t tried this because it is a visual presentation, but you can apparently move around a 3d presentation of the house here.

Have you read the diary of Anne Frank?

Amsterdam

Have you been to Amsterdam? What did you do there?

Click on the link if you want to find out about the cheese tasting event that we attended in Amsterdam on a previous visit.

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ested this because it’s a visual presentation, but apparently you can look inside the Anne Frank house on this page

Jane Austen’s house

During my week off, we went to Chawton in Hampshire, to have a walk and visit Jane Austen’s house. The house is open to the public as a museum, and you can walk around the house, seeing where Jane lived and wrote her books. There is also a learning centre, where you can watch a short video about Jane Austen’s life and books. The video shows you around the house, but anyone who only listens to the video can still understand what is going on.

Outside there is a garden, where you can learn about the herbs that a family living at this time would have used.

Inside the house, all but one of the rooms are open to the public, and there is a selection of 41 objects, which help visitors to understand more about what life was like in a village home over 200 years ago. The objects include Jane’s writing table, (a very low desk – I can’t imagine that she was very tall!), and a bookcase that belonged to her father, George Austen. You may not be able to see all of the objects at once as they are being rotated throughout the year. 2017 is the 200th anniversary of Janes death in 1817. She died aged only 41 years due to an illness.

Downstairs you can see where Jane worked and wrote her manuscripts, and upstairs you can go into the bedrooms, including the one that Jane shared with her sister Cassandra. There are no audio guides, so my partner read the information as we walked around the house.

Following her father’s death, Jane, her sister and mother needed to find somewhere to live. Her brother Edward made the house in Chawton available to them, and this is where Jane spent the last eight years of her life, revising the three manuscripts she had written previously, writing three more novels, and starting one which was never finished due to her health problems.

In many ways, she had a lot of freedom to write and pursue her own interests there, as her sister Cassandra took over much of the work of running the house. The house was shared by Jane, Cassandra, their mother, and a female friend, who was a close friend of the family. They were frequently visited by other family members. Jane had six brothers, one of whom was instrumental in getting Jane’s books published.

Examples of Jane’s work include Pride and Prejudice, (the only one of the books that I have read so far, and one which I would definitely recommend!), Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park. Don’t forget that you can also get a free book by signing up for Audible using the link on my audio book page.

I did enjoy the Pride and prejudice film, particularly as it stayed close to the plot of the book and true to the clever and witty dialogues, but I’m generally a “the book was better” kind of girl! I was far less impressed by the recent Pride and Prejudice with zombies film, but then I do usually find anything to do with zombies rather pointless!

Although it’s not thought that characters in the books were based on specific people, the depth to the characters leads me to believe that she drew on her experiences of people around her. It’s believed that some of the close relationships between sisters, such as the one between Jane and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, was based on Jane’s own close relationship with her sister Cassandra. I think everyone has come across someone as irritating as Mrs Bennet, and a long-suffering, strong man of few words like her husband!

After Jane’s death, Jane’s mother and sister lived in the house until they died. After this, it was used for workers on the estate until it was sold in 1947, when the museum was established.

After our walk around the house and garden, we bought some lemon gingerbread from the gift shop, and headed to the nearby café, Cassandra’s, for a late lunch.

If you’re interested in Jane Austen, or you have a more general interest in life in the past, I’d recommend that you visit this house and museum.

You can find more information on the Jane Austen’s house website. This post contains affiliate links.

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Chocolate tasting – German and Swedish chocolate

Hello to all the chocolate lovers out there!

One of the things we do when we visit new countries is a chocolate test! We look for a few different types of chocolate from that country, buy it, and chomp our way through it! All in the name of cultural research! Good idea, right?

Today’s post is about chocolate from Sweden and Germany.

Swedish chocolate

We tested three types of Swedish chocolate. My favourite is the Marabou apelsin krokant milk chocolate bar, which is a delicious chocolate orange bar with crispy bits! If you like Terry’s chocolate oranges, you will like this bar too! It’s got a distinct orange flavour and the crunchy bits just add to the texture! Yum! We buy one every time we go to Sweden now!

The other Marabou product is the Marabou mint krokant milk chocolate bar which is basically a crunchy mint bar! The crunchy pieces in this bar are not as soft as the orange ones – they’re more like tiny bits of butterscotch or something like that, so they don’t melt in your mouth straight away. I do like this one too, but it also has tiny bits of nut in it, and I think the mint would be better without them.

I couldn’t find the third one online, but it’s the Plopp bar! Ok, I admit it, I bought it because of the name, which is at first a bit amusing for English speakers, but I wasn’t disappointed with the milk chocolate and soft caramel centre! These are slightly smaller than the other two, and also very moreish!

German chocolate

In terms of German chocolate, it wasn’t as much about trying out new things, but sending my partner off with a list of things to bring back when he went on a business trip there! I haven’t been to Germany for a while, but I used to go regularly, and I always left a bit of room in my suitcase for chocolate – specifically coffee and strawberry chocolate!

I don’t know what it is about the English chocolate market, but we are not very adventurous when it comes to chocolate with coffee or fruity fillings.

If you go to Germany, or a German shop here in the UK, you don’t have this problem, because Ritter produces both coffee and strawberry chocolate.

My favourite is the Ritter Sport Espresso (5 bars). It’s quite strong, and ideal for coffee lovers. I find in the UK, there are only really weak, creamy alternatives with a hint of coffee flavour, but this is not like that, which is why I like it.

There is also a strawberry one – the Ritter Sport strawberry yoghurt chocolate bar (5 bars). This has a creamy yoghurt centre with strawberry in the centre of each square and is a treat for anyone who likes to mix chocolate and fruit as I do!

My other strawberry favourites are the Ferrero Yogurette bars, which are individually wrapped, thin, finger bars of chocolate with a smooth strawberry yoghurt filling inside. This is different to the Ritter one, because that has tiny strawberry bits in it. I remember several years ago that there was also a special mango edition of these, but I haven’t seen them since.

When I went on my school exchange to Germany, I collected a selection of the Yogurette bars and bottles of sparkling mineral water. My host family was concerned that I was hungry and thirsty, but the real problem was that some of the English students didn’t like these things, so I rescued them before they got thrown away! Because you can’t throw Yogurette away!!! That’s just wrong!

What do you think?

Have you tried any of these bars? What do you think of them?

If you’re Swedish or German, are there other things that you think I should try?

Or maybe you’re from another country – I’m always looking for chocolate recommendations, so let me know your suggestions in the comments!

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Walking with wolves

As you may have already noticed, I’m a big fan of wolves. I’ve always loved dogs, and my interest in wolves really came about through my partner, who had been interested in them long before I was.

I really think they get a raw deal – often portrayed as the big bad wolf, or bad guys in fairytales, which gives people the idea that they are something to be feared. They are definitely something to be respected, but rather than seeing them as the villain, as I started to read and find out more about them, I understood that there is a lot we can learn from their behaviour, ways of communicating and pack structures.

I wanted to do something with my partner that would allow us to learn more about these wonderful creatures. As the charities and organisations in the UK work with captive wolves, I began to wonder whether I would actually be able to touch one. The first place that I tried said that none of their wolves were accustomed enough to people for interaction to be possible, so I tried further afield and came across Wolfwatch UK, a non-profit organisation that works with displaced captive wolves. According to their website:

“Wolf Watch UK is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the rescue, welfare, and conservation of displaced wolves from captive situations across Europe. Aiming to set the standard for the care of captive wolves, and provide them with as close to natural a habitat as is possible. Whilst providing the opportunity to study, educate, and offer factual information to our visitors, allowing them to form their own opinions regarding this magnificent animal, and hopefully expel some of the myths and misconceptions that still exists around them.”

As visiting Wolfwatch would be quite a long drive, I organised a two-night stay in the cottage, a renovated barn close to the main house, and a private visit with two of the wolves. I was very excited. Initially it was going to be a surprise for my partner, but as it would involve him driving quite a long way, I let him in on it before we booked! I thought this would be better than just producing the postcode on the day and telling the sat nav to get us there.

Last Friday, , we drove to Wolfwatch and were greeted at the door by Tony, who runs the sanctuary, and his two very friendly dogs. After deerhound and spaniel hugs, we were shown to the cottage, where we would stay for the next two nights. It does have a kitchen with a fridge, hob, and microwave, so you could cook there if you wanted. We just bought snacks for lunchtime and went out to a local town for our evening meals.

The cottage is surrounded by beautiful hills and countryside and it’s an ideal place to get away from it all. If you’re lucky, you hear the wolves howling. I made this recording whilst leaning as far as I could out of an upstairs window, so the birds and background noise are quite loud, but I didn’t want to miss the howls all together by running downstairs to go outside! I think this is Anja howling:

On Saturday morning, we met Tony, and Helen, who also works at Wolfwatch, and went to the enclose where Madadh and Kgosi live. They are Canadian wolves, brother and sister, and both in their senior years. I had already adopted Madadh on the website (see below for ways that you can help the wolves), and I was very keen to meet her. There was also a special link with visual impairment, because as Kgosi lost his sight, Madadh helped him out, both in terms of getting around the enclosure and finding food. So in a way, she was his guide wolf, and later that day, she became mine, too.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I went in (apart from a lot of mud because it had been raining!) I didn’t know how big they would be, what their fur would be like, how keen they would be on interacting with people or how they would respond to us. I imagined them to be something like very big German Shepherds, which wasn’t far wrong, but as they live outside and still had their thick winter coats, it wasn’t like the German Shepherd coats I’d felt before. I felt really privileged to have the opportunity to get so clos to what, despite the familiarity with people that these two wolves have developed after being hand-reared as puppies, is still a wild animal.

Madadh (also known as Maddy) was the first to the gate and she was definitely interested in the dog kibble that we’d brought for her. The first part I felt of her was the big, gentle snout coming in for the biscuits. I was amazed how gently she took them. She then allowed me to stroke her head, her pointy ears, her silky (if a bit wet) coat, and to feel the length of her body. After she had sussed us out, her brother Kgosi came to join us as well. He is much bigger, like a stately old man, and he too was partial to the scooby snacks! He let me touch his strong body, his massive paws and his thick, powerful tail. If he dropped a snack, Maddy was quick to help tidy up!

We spent the next hour or so with them – walking around their enclosure, taking photos, giving them treats and learning about their history, their lives and about the other wolves who live at Wolfwatch. Kgosi couldn’t see the treats, but his keen sense of smell didn’t let him down. He usually allows his sister to go and check out new sights and sounds, but if she needs him, he is ready to defend her.

Madadh is accustomed to being on a lead when she needs to be moved somewhere, and when we took her into the field, I held her lead and she led me along. The sighted members of the party were there to make sure that she didn’t guide mi into the lake, but there was something magical about being guided along by a wolf!

I felt a sense of awe that these powerful, independent animals had developed such trust for Tony, and as we came in with him, they accepted us as well. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to get close to these fascinating creatures.

As I was lying in bed on the morning that we left, I woke to the sounds of howls. I was in no state to be leaning out of windows, so I just stayed there and listened. Du to the direction of the howls, it was unlikely to be Maddy and Kgosi, but even though the other wolves are not socialized and would not welcome us in their enclosures, mainly due to less than positive experiences with humans, they still need our help.

What can you do to help?

There are a number of ways that you can help wolves like Maddy and Kgosi. Buying any of the products on the Wolfwatch website supports the wolves directly – they need to be fed, vet bills need to be paid and their enclosures need to be kept in good condition. Things that you can do include arranging a visit, as we did, adopting a wolf, which gives you access to additional information and resources on the website, visiting the cottage, or gifting membership to someone else. If you can’t afford to do any of these things, you can still learn about them, or share social media updates from organisations that help wolves, and in doing so convey the message that they are not some terrible enemy to be feared, but a smart and intelligent wild animal that deserves our help and respect.

Some of the stories I have heard about the conditions in which wolves have been kept are truly awful. Despite the similarities to dogs, they are not pets. They are not dogs. They are wild animals and need to be kept in an environment that is appropriate for them.

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Podcast

Unseen Beauty is also available as a podcast. If you want to listen to it, you can find it on iTunes or Player FM.

The URL for the podcast feed is
https://player.fm/series/unseen-beauty

Skansen – a place worth visiting if you’re in Stockholm

I may have mentioned before that when we go away, I do the research and make a list of things for us to do, we decide what sounds interesting, then my partner works out the logistics of getting there.

Last year we spent a few days in Stockholm. We’re not really the typical tourists who go from one museum to the next, but I was first drawn to the idea of visiting Skansen because I read that there were wolves there, and we both love wolves.

Wolves at Skansen
Wolves!

Skansen is an open-air museum and zoo that is situated on the island of Djurgarden, near Stockholm.

You can see a variety of wild and domestic animals there, as well as a range of buildings, mostly from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. The buildings were moved to the museum from other parts of Sweden and show how things changed in terms of the architecture.

The wild animals have plenty of space to move around and get away from screaming children and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see wolves, wolverines, lynx, reindeer, moose, bison, grey seals and bears.

It is a great place for a family day out – there are pony rides for children and I imagine that children who love animals would get a lot out of it. I just wish that some parents would not just see it as a wide open space where the kids can let off steam, (there’s a playground for that), but instead that this is the animals’ home, the people are visitors, and as a guest in someone else’s home, there are rules you should follow, such as showing them some respect and not doing things that would potentially distress or scare them.

They are wild animals, so of course there are barriers to separate them from the people, but I was pleased that they had a lot of space and it wasn’t what you might think of when you hear the word zoo.

We wanted to see all of the animals, but we were particularly happy to see the wolves. I don’t understand people who go to nature reserves and complain about not seeing the animals because they were hibernating or asleep – I see it as a bonus if you do catch a glimpse of them, not a tourist right!

As we were walking around one of the traditional farm houses, someone who worked there produced a Braille floor plan of the house. I think they were glad to have found someone who could read it, and they took some time explaining to us what life was like, what the rooms were used for and something about the tasks that the people living on the farm would have done.

You can also visit a replica of a 19th century town and find out what life would have been like there for the farmers, craftsmen and traders. There is also a Sami camp, where you can learn more about the Sami culture and way of life.

If you’re in Stockholm, I would definitely recommend this as a place worth visiting. WE spent the whole day there. Be aware that most things are outdoors, so for the best experience, try to choose a day when it’s not raining! You can buy food on site, and also pay a visit to the gift shop before you leave. I came out with a plush wolf to add to my growing collection!

How about you?

Have you been to Skansen? Do you have any more recommendations for things to do or see in Stockholm?

If you like wolves as much as we do, make sure you don’t miss next week’s post which will be all about wolves in the UK.

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Podcast

Unseen Beauty is also available as a podcast. If you want to listen to it, you can find it on iTunes or Player FM.

The URL for the podcast feed is
https://player.fm/series/unseen-beauty

Visit to the Tower of London

The day I met one of my students for the first time face-to-face, and we visited the Tower of London

One of the interesting and exciting parts of my job is that I work with people in different parts of the world. Most of my customers live in Germany. I meet with them online and help them to improve their English. The customer who has been with me the longest started when I opened English with Kirsty in 2012, but I’ve never met her, because none of my training is face-to-face.

There are many reasons why I love online training – it opens up the pool of customers to people who aren’t in your local area, and also you don’t spend hours trudging around from place to place. After 10 years of commuting to my job in London, I’m done with that!

Anyway, that said, if I hear that one of my students is coming to London, I take the chance to meet up with them.

People tell me as much or as little about themselves as they want to, but I think one-to-one lessons give a trainer the opportunity to get to know people a bit better. I’d already shared in Heike’s excitement as she began to make her wedding plans, and when I found out that she and her fiancé (now husband) were coming to London, we made arrangements to meet and go to the Tower of London. I’d been there before, but I was 5, and the only memory I had was of wandering around with a mini crown on my head. Nothing more! So I wanted to go again!

Even if you live in a city like London that has so much to offer in terms of history and interesting places to go, I think you only really discover them when friends come to visit. Well at least that’s my experience!

I always find it strange when I meet someone for the first time although I feel that I already know them! However, I’m used to this because so much of my work is carried out online.

Heike and Dirk met me at the station and we went to the Tower of London together. I thought it was one big building, but it isn’t. You can walk around the grounds and you don’t get lost because you are provided with a map. There’s even a tactile map for blind people, which I thought was cool! In addition to that, we got the audio tour guide. I needed people to tell me the numbers on the nearby signs, but when I typed them in, the machine then played the information. I usually do this to stop my sighted companions ending up hoarse with all the reading, but on that day it had an added bonus because it also gave Heike some extra English listening practice!

It’s an interesting feeling to know that you are walking where famous characters from the past have walked. I thought about Anne Boleyn, who was held at the tower before her execution – an educated woman with strong opinions on how to rule the country, whose only crimes were not producing a son and losing at the dangerous game of court politics. She walked around in the places where we went – before being beheaded by sword and not by axe, which apparently was less painful. What a thoughtful guy.

Historically, wild animals, such as lions, tigers, and elephants, were given as gifts to royalty, and the Tower became home to these animals. Visiting them was encouraged, and in the 17th century, King James I installed viewing platforms. There seemed to be little understanding of what the animals needed or how to work with them, and life with the animals did not go without incident. One of the zookeepers was nearly killed by a snake, and someone accidentally left a door open, which resulted in a fight between a lion and a tiger. The lion was wounded and did not survive. I am not anti-zoo as long as the animals are well-cared for, but it seems in the tower they were not – the animals were just a means of entertainment for the people. Animals are no longer kept at the tower.

After walking around the grounds, learning about the various buildings and being startled by a Yeoman Warder (also known as beefeaters, but they don’t like that!, who shouted a command for other soldiers to march, we decided to walk along the Thames and get some lunch. The Yeoman Warders have to have served in the armed forces, with an honourable record, for at least 22 years. The name beefeater is thought to have come about because they were given special privileges, such as being allowed to eat as much beef as they wanted from the King’s table.

There are restaurants in the tower, but I thought it would be nice to go along the river and I also thought there would be a better choice of food. We settled on giraffe because it has a selection of dishes and most people can find something they like on the menu.

After that, we walked along the river again and got some ice-cream.

It was really good to meet Heike and Dirk in person, to spend the day chatting with them, and to share in Heike’s experience of learning something about my home city!

How about you?

Have you been to the Tower of London? For London readers, if friends were coming to visit, where would you take them? Let me know in the comments.

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Podcast

Unseen Beauty is also available as a podcast. If you want to listen to it, you can find it on iTunes or Player FM.

The URL for the podcast feed is
https://player.fm/series/unseen-beauty